18 Apr 2021

St Andrews Church, Malabar

There’s an early Peanuts comic in which Charlie Brown’s self-appointed life-coach, Violet, tells Charlie in no uncertain terms that “Sooner or later, there’s one thing you’re going to have to learn: You reap what you sow! You get out of life exactly what you put into it! No more and no less!”

Snoopy the dog, who’s been walking alongside the children until this point, stops and thinks. “I’d kind of like to see a little more margin for error,” he mumbles to himself, turning around and walking the other way.

We often find ourselves in life repeating some variation of Violet’s polemic, and it has much going for it. “Life wasn’t meant to be easy,” as another sage said. Things don’t just fall into your lap. You can’t expect a high grade point average if you never bother to study. You can’t expect to cook a great meal if you lack the ingredients, recipe and will. There’d be very little change for the better in our world if everyone waited for things to be handed to them on a platter.

The early Christian St John makes this point in our epistle, when he exhorts us to stop sinning and instead live godly lives (1Jn 2:1-5). His mate St Peter makes the same point in the homily we heard in our first reading (Acts 3:13-19). We have to do your bit. “Pray as if everything depended upon God,” St Augustine is supposed to have said, “and act as if everything depended upon you.”

Which is right, as far as it goes. But it’s not enough.

For one thing, how often do people live good lives, but have terrible luck, even terrible suffering. We think of Job in the Old Testament, a good man who loses his family, property, business, you name it. Or we think of Jesus in the New Testament, the best of men who loses his friends, clothes, dignity, even life. Some people certainly seem to get less than they deserve!

As for punishment and reward in our moral and spiritual lives, only God can balance those things up. We’re probably not the worst sinners in town, but there’d be things Peter and John would tell us to repent of. And that’s been our story from the start. Since the beginning of humanity and the Fall, there have been so many sins that there’s nothing original about sin anymore. Since the beginning of the Church and the Redemption, there have been so many offers of salvation, yet we’ve kept missing the boat…

Think of those first disciples. They got to follow Jesus around for three years, receiving the best possible catechesis and formation. They professed him ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ and they loved Him. Yet at the first sign of trouble they betrayed Him or fled. Still He doesn’t give up on them. Even from the cross He prays “Forgive them Father”. Even from the grave He returns with hope for a new start, a second go.

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St Thomas (1601-2) Sanssouci Picture Gallery

Again they resist. Though they’d heard the testimony of the women on Easter Sunday, who found the tomb empty and saw a vision of angels (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-11; Lk 24:1-12; Jn 20:1-2,11-18), they refused to believe (Mk 16:11; Lk 24:11; Jn 20:9,24-25). Though two of them saw Him on Emmaus Street the following Sunday, and encountered Him in word and sacrament, still they would not believe (Mk 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-35,37,41). Today it’s the third time around, surely third time lucky, yet when Jesus appears they respond with alarm rather than excitement. They think they’ve seen a ghost. He has to offer them His hands and feet and eat with them to prove it’s Him. As St. John Chrysostom, fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople, pointed out, “we have singled out Thomas, but we know from the Gospel that the rest of the disciples were equally disbelieving when they first saw the risen Lord.”[1] They were hard nuts to crack! We all are.

Well if those who were closest to Jesus could commit sins against faith and hope and love, how could we be any better? If we have to deserve heaven, what are our chances?

Well, the Good News for Snoopy today is, there is “a little more margin for error”. Immediately after commanding his readers to “stop sinning”, John writes that “But if anyone should sin, we have our advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is just; he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away, and not only ours, but the sins of the world.” And so Peter, commissioned to be the rock, the confirmer of the brethren, the keeper of the keys to the kingdom, His chosen vicar, who denied Him three times, now repents by professing his love three times. He’s rehabilitated and recommissioned to be Shepherd for the Church in Jesus’ place (Jn 21:15-19). In our first reading we see him, only a few weeks later, proclaiming Christ Risen to the world. Having experienced the bigness of God’s mercy first hand, he calls his audience to the same (Acts 3:13-19). He’d had a second chance – and a third, fourth, and more – and he extends that offer to the world on Christ’s behalf.

Which gives us the mission of the parishes of St Andrew and St Agnes: to share the Easter promise of a new start with the people of Malabar and Matraville. A new start, whatever is going wrong at present with our character, relationships, lives, world. A new start, even beyond the grave. We join Peter and John in extending wide the arms and hope of the Church to all and sundry.

Today as I install Fr John as pastor of these two parishes, we give thanks for past clergy and people who spread the Gospel of new beginnings with generations before us. There’s real joy that we are free to gather again and celebrate, as we do today. There’s cause for joy, but not for complacency. For we miss those who are not here. Even before COVID hit, only 5% of the Catholics in this area were regular worshippers, whereas across Sydney it’s more like 15%, and we’d all like it to be more than that. And then there’s the ones Peter was so concerned about, those who’ve never connected to Jesus and have no spiritual home even to be neglecting? Our Archdiocesan Mission Plan, Go Make Disciples, is packed full of ideas about what we can do about this, and I charge Fr John and you all with applying some of those ideas with gusto. We must ask ourselves, again and again, how we can be like Christ, sharing a meal with friends and taking the opportunity “to open their eyes to the Scriptures”, or be like Peter, going out to welcome the unconverted, the converted and the diverted.

Fr John will now be responsible on my behalf for the worship, evangelisation and service in this parish. In his priestly service, he must sanctify you by prayer and sacrament. In his shepherding, he must lead and serve as Christ did. In his prophetic ministry, he must proclaim the Gospel and Church teaching in season and out, like St. Peter and St. John did.

But he cannot do this all by himself. Together, priests and people achieve far more than any one of us could alone. To strengthen him for his new task, we now have the formal Rites of Installation of a Parish Priest. They are a useful reminder to us all, not just of his mission but of yours, as brothers and sisters who have seen what Jesus can do. I ask you, of your mercy, to keep supporting Fr John, as he prays for and serves you.


St Andrew’s Church, Malabar

Welcome to this morning’s Mass for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, when I will formally install Fr John Knight as your new Parish Priest, both for Malabar and Matraville. I am pleased to acknowledge members of Fr John’s brother here today and other friends of Fr John, especially parishioners from his former parish.

I acknowledge Monsignor Kerry Bayada; Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite MP, Federal Member for Kingsford Smith; Councillor Danny Said, Mayor of Randwick; and Mrs Leonie Burfield, Principal of St Andrew’s Catholic Primary School. Apologies have also been sent from Mr Michael Daley MP, state Member for Maroubra, and Rev. Gavin Poole, Senior Minister at St Mark’s Anglican Church Malabar.

To everyone present a very warm welcome! In witnessing the Rites of Installation of a Parish Priest this morning, we all have a chance to reflect on the various stages of our own faith journey. So as we begin this Easter Mass giving thanks for our Catholic faith and church, let us repent of our sins…

[1] St. John Chrysostom, Homily 4 on the beginning of Acts, 6